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Going by word of mouth

Strange as it may sound, choosing your words carefully and speaking at the right speed are essential to good communication. During my recent communication for finance professionals course, I was reminded of a former partner at a well-known accounting firm who spoke incredibly quickly (let's call him Nick). Nick was renowned for having little time for anyone who wasn't a similarly fast-talker.

Two key points became apparent. Firstly, why it was important to keep at his pace and ‘speak his language’. Secondly, how his lack of people knowledge probably meant he didn’t get the best from his team.

Key to the concept is that we all communicate differently. In particular, we think in terms of pictures, sounds and feelings, known by some as ‘representational systems’, that is to say, how we represent the outside world in our heads.

And although we all use all of the representational systems, most of us have a preferred system, one which we tend to use more naturally and frequently. These preferences tend to be reflected in our speech in two ways – the words and phrases we use and how fast we speak.

So, typically, people who think primarily in pictures tend to speak quickly and use words or phrases such as ‘I see’, ‘it looks like’, ‘take a dim view’.

At the other end of the spectrum, people who think primarily in terms of feelings will tend to speak very slowly, and use words or phrases such as ‘get a feel for’, ‘grasp an idea’, ‘let’s kick this into touch’.

People who think primarily in terms of sounds may speak with lots of inflexion in their voice and use words or phrases like ‘sounds right’, ‘strikes a chord’, ‘discuss’.

US and UK studies show that around 40% of people have a visual preference, 40% feelings and 20% sounds, and that people with similar preferences communicate better with each other.

The trainer recommended that one way to get the best from people is to ‘match’ their preferred representational style and their pace of speaking by altering ours slightly.

Nick, who is probably a ‘pictures’ person, could have missed getting the best from 60% of his colleagues simply by not matching them. What a waste of good talent!

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